This may have been a forgotten moment in history, but the sudden and violent interaction between Europeans and Africans was also to have a profound impact on Africa’s future. While some Africans fought willingly, many others resisted their deployment, and the brutal way they were treated. Colonial powers took note.

After the war, despite their efforts, Africans were denied their request for representation at the Treaty of Versailles. Germany’s African colonies were divided up between European powers, making Britain and France dominating forces on the continent. The division impacted millions of people, in countries including Rwanda, Togo, Cameroon, Namibia, and South Africa, and would have ripple effects for decades to come.

“Fundamentally World War I accelerated the process of political and economic change in colonial Africa,” writes Richard Rathbone in the Journal of African History (pdf). “It was a period in which a largely haphazard colonial world became an increasingly centralized affair. In many ways the War marked the period in which ‘pacification’ of both African and metropolitan critics of colonialism ends and colonial rule proper begins.”

More than a million African soldiers—the “forgotten veterans“—would go on to fight for colonial powers in World War II.

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